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Presidential versus parliamentary form of government

By Curt Anderson
April 17, 2020 7:06 pm
Category: Politics

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The two main democratic forms of government are the presidential system and parliamentary system. The method of electing and removing the head of government is among the most important variables. There are also hybrids of the presidential and parliamentary systems throughout the world.

In the presidential system voters have less choice of political parties but greater choice and say in which individual heads the government. In the parliamentary system voters have greater choice of political parties but less choice and say in which individual heads the government.


Presidential System (Example: United States)
Head of government (the President) selected by voters.

Head of government (the Prime Minister) selected by members of Parliament...
Parliamentary System (Example: United Kingdom)

In the US a Democrat or Republican candidate winning the majority of delegates (broadly reflecting the primary popular vote) will be the nominee. If no candidate has a majority, the party convention decides on the nominee.
The presidential selection process by the two major parties involves a series of state primary contests. Candidates attempt to distinguish their views from their rivals. Debates commonly elucidate their differences.

... who were in turn selected by voters.
In the UK, the voters in each district elect the 650 members the House of Commons. A second chamber, the 800 member House of Lords complements and consults with the House of Commons.

The major and minor parties candidates for president face each other in a quadrennial general election in the early November on years divisible by four. A plurality of electoral votes determines the winner.
Simultaneously, one third of the US Senate and the entire House of Representative face the voters and elected with the President.

The party with a majority or a coalition of parties the House of Commons select a prime minister (PM) and the other ministers to form the PM's cabinet.
Length of PM's term is not directly set and "At Her Majesty's Pleasure".

The members of House of Lords are appointed by the Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister.

The cabinet members are not elected by any voters (although they may have been elected to an office)
The President with the advice and consent of the Senate selects his/her cabinet to head the various departments (State, Defense, Commerce, etc.)

The ministers have all been elected by the voters of their various districts. They include Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Home Secretary and others.
The ruling party or coalition are presumably aligned politically so there should be general agreement between the Prime Minister and the Parliament.

The House of Representatives may vote to impeach a president for high crimes and misdemeanors and the Senate may vote to convict.
In the US system, power is shared by the President, the Senate and House of Representatives. Frequently, no single party controls the presidency and both legislative chambers which often leads to confrontation and compromise legislation.

Minor parties can have an influence in the government by forming coalitions with party(s) that share compatible political positions.
However, a vote of no confidence can remove a government (the Prime Minister and cabinet) from office for any reason including political disagreement.

Minor party and independent candidates can win their state or district's congressional seat. They then "caucus" with the ideologically closest party. They may determine which party controls a congressional chamber.
Minor party presidential candidates invariably lose and tend to hurt the chances of the major party candidate to whom they are closest ideologically.

In the election, voters have a greater choice of political parties since there are no primary elections to winnow out the field of candidates. Unlike America's primaries, there is one candidate per party on the ballot.
However, this means that generally the members of Parliament are voted in by a mere plurality of voters. Certainly the Prime Minister wins the votes of only tiny fraction of the population, namely from their home district.

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